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MonkeyNotes-Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
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Chapter 21

Mrs. Touchett prepares to leave Paris for Italy. She tells Isabel before they leave that she now has a clear choice whether to remain with her or go her own way. She says that "property erects a kind of barrier" and that when a woman is rich she can do many things that would be stoutly condemned if she were not. Isabel wants to continue with her aunt since she always feels a great regard for doing what is proper and decent and she doesnít think a young woman without relatives is very proper.

She and Mrs. Touchett stop in San Remo to visit Ralph on their way to Italy. Isabel enjoys spending time with him. She asks him one day if he knew that his father was going to leave her the money. He says he discussed it briefly with his father. She wants to know why she was left so much. Ralph says it was a compliment for her so beautifully existing. Isabel isnít satisfied with this. She says she wants to be treated with justice. She wants to know if he agrees with Henrietta Stackpole that the fortune will be bad for her. Ralph is impatient with this kind of thinking. He says Isabel should stop worrying over the rights and wrongs of life. He says most of life is good for one and that a fortune certainly is one of those things. He tells her she should spread her wings. Isabel is happy to hear this. She agrees that she usually does treat her life like a doctorís prescription, wondering what is good for her and what isnít.

As she strolls along the beach with Ralph, she can look across the water and imagine Italy. She thinks of it as a land of promise. She canít wait to see it. She thinks it is going to be a "larger adventure." She becomes used to her fortune. It becomes part of her "better self." While she has this time, she thinks about Caspar Goodwood and Lord Warburton. She recognizes the leisure of not having to think of them. She knows she only has a year and a half before she will have to deal with Caspar. She thinks he might find someone else in that time and realizes that she might feel a pang of hurt feelings if he did. She thinks, on the other hand, that if Lord Warburton found someone else, she would be happy for him.


Notes

The San Remo chapter provides a meditative interlude in the novel and builds up suspense as to what will happen in Italy, the "land of promise," in Isabelís mind where "a love the beautiful might be comforted by endless knowledge." Ralph is in San Remo and it is always with Ralph that Isabel is shown in her best light. Ralph finds her a "lovely being" and tells her his father gave her the fortune for no other reason that that she "beautifully exist[s]." Ralph advises Isabel to do more of this, to stop treating herself as if she were "look[ing] at life too much as a doctorís prescription" worrying about what was good for her and what was bad for her. In this aspect, Isabel is a quintessential American protagonist. James is always comparing the freshly arrived Americans like Henrietta Stackpole and Isabel to the Americans who have lived in Europe more or less permanently for years. He clearly values the Americans who expatriated to England over those who moved to Paris, but he seems to find it useful to use the newly arrived patriotic Americans as a sort of moral measure of the others. He does this a great deal, but he also finds this sort of hyper-moralizing a bit ridiculous. It is here that the ideal figure--the figure who is both American and British--Ralph Touchett can come in and say, just live life and stop worrying.

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